Font Size:  

“He’s right to blame me,” she said. “I… I was…”

I reached out and put my hand on her arm. The velvet sleeve felt as soft as it looked, but her arm felt frail beneath the luxurious fabric. “I think maybe you should be saying this to him,” I offered gently.

She closed her eyes for a moment before flashing me a surprising smile. “But it’s much easier to say it to you.”

I acknowledged her point with a low chuckle before pushing back my chair. “True, but I’m heading home. Christmas is a time to be together with family. I promised mine I’d do a video call tonight, and if I call early enough, I might be able to watch my nephews open their presents.”

Tilly reached out and clasped my hand. “Can I talk you into staying a little longer? In case… in case he wants someone to talk to that’s not…” She gestured grandly at the long table full of laughing, chatting Marians and Wildes. “Family.”

I leaned in and kissed her cheek. “There’s a lot I don’t know about Miller and this situation, Tilly, but the one thing I do know is that family is exactly what he needs, whether he realizes it or not. You are what he needs. Talk to him. Tell him you love him. Tell him you’re scared. He can take it.”

Her eyes widened in surprised when I said the “s” word, but she didn’t argue with me. She let me press a kiss to her cheek and patted my arm distractedly.

I waved my hand at a few of the family members who noticed my departure, and I clapped Sam Marian on the back with a murmured “Merry Christmas.”

When I left the tent, Miller was nowhere to be found, which I’d expected. Shoe prints in the snow led away from the house toward the trees bordering the ski slope, and I could see the faint pinprick of light from his cellphone in the distance.

He would be okay. He had an entire party tent full of people who would make sure of it, and my number in his phone if he ended up needing a rescue.

I walked around the side of the house and slid into the freezing-cold cab of my truck. The cold air was bracing, but it invigorated me for the dark drive home. As I drove through Aster Valley, I saw very few cars on the road. Most people were already settled somewhere safe and warm for the night, celebrating with friends and family.

Even though I was all by myself, I was happy and relaxed. It had been easier than I expected walking away from the Marian and Wilde family dinner.

Because I felt deep down inside it would be the last Christmas Eve I’d spend by myself.

After seeing the easy way Miller had turned to me for comfort when he was upset, I’d known, just known, we were meant to be together. I was falling for him so quickly and so hard, it should have set off alarm bells.

But it didn’t.

When I got home, I lit a fire and turned on a few lamps before pouring myself a glass of wine and bringing my laptop over to the sofa.

My mom answered the video call on the first ring. “Merry Christmas Eve!” she said. “Even though real Christmas isn’t for a while yet…”

“Don’t act like you follow the Greek Orthodox calendar anymore,” I said, grinning from ear to ear at her familiar joke. “Unless Yaya is there eavesdropping.”

She winced. “Wash your mouth out, Darius Grant.”

“Where is everyone?” I asked. From the background, it looked like she was in her bedroom.

“They’re in the living room hanging stockings. I just came back here to change out of my shoes. I thought you said you were going to wait and call tomorrow? Your sister said you were going to a dinner somewhere.”

I leaned back on the sofa and settled in. “I did. It was lovely, but I left early.”

She frowned. “I’m sorry to hear that. It’s not too late to catch a flight home, you know.”

I felt my grin coming back. “I am home, Mom.”

I could tell from her expression she was unsure what to make of my words. “You seem happy,” she said.

“I am.”

“And?” she prodded.

“Remember the other day when I said when there was something to tell, I’d let you know?”

Her eyes widened, and she sat down on the end of her bed before asking, “Yes?”

“There’s something to tell. His name is Miller Hobbs.”



I left the tent with only a little jangle of nerves about Darius’s reaction. I felt guilty for leaving him in the middle of such a nice event, and I felt even worse for leaving him alone with a bunch of strangers on Christmas Eve. But it was like every moment of grief that I’d pushed down for the past year of my mother’s illness and death had come boiling up to the surface, and I felt like it was going to erupt all over him—and anyone else near me—if I stayed there any longer.